NFL Network analyst and former NFL player Heath Evans spoke on KNBR Thursday morning. Here’s what he said about the 49ers and the Falcons.
Q: The 49ers are a four-point favorite on the road over the Falcons. Does this stun you?
HEATH EVANS: No. Not at all. I was talking with Darren Sharper the other day, and I’m telling you – anyone that is picking Atlanta is either biased because they want Atlanta to win, or they’re planning on at least two turnovers, or one turnover and a special teams touchdown by Atlanta. There is just no way on paper, ,matchup-for-matchup, scheme-for-scheme, coach-for-coach, that any 49ers fan should be worried. The only even thing I think for these teams are Brad Seely and Keith Armstrong, the two special teams coaches. I think it’s kind of a draw there. But offense-for-offense, defense-for-defense, San Francisco has this thing down pat.
Q: You played in the NFC South for a while. What do you learn about the Falcons and their DNA?
HEATH EVANS: It means I’m still surprised they actually pulled it out versus Seattle. I’m getting all these trash-talking texts all throughout the first half and I didn’t even respond to them because, in my mind, I’m like, “We’ll see typical Atlanta Falcons’ football come out here pretty soon.” What do they do? It’s like they went in at halftime and took a nap instead of trying to step on the throat of your opponent, one that they should have known was extremely dangerous.
Atlanta’s just a front-running team. I think they’re soft when need be. I wasn’t the most physical fullback in the world, I knew who I was, I didn’t make mental mistakes, but I learned real quickly from Bill Belichick in my four years in New England how to take advantage of a team’s weaknesses and who they are as a team. That’s how you attack them based on who you believe them to be.
We didn’t struggle with Atlanta too often in New Orleans. They called it a rivalry game. I wouldn’t say it was much of one. They definitely have a character flaw in the sense of who they are as a team. Now, maybe Mike Nolan and Coach Smith are in the process of changing that right now, but I don’t see it yet.
Q: Are the 49ers the opposite?
HEATH EVANS: Absolutely. That was really my only knock when Jim decided to go with Kaepernick over Alex. I thought he had spent basically two season building a team, a team built on ball control, a team built on being disciplined and fundamentally sound. Definitely one of the top three or four physical teams in the business, and a team that didn’t make mental mistakes.
The first six weeks of Colin’s starting career, some of the things I was seeing were small mistakes that weren’t being judged as mistakes because they were completed passes or maybe they were even scores, and I thought, “Man, when you see the top notch defenses of the playoffs, this is going to cost this team wins.” The growth process he’s been in – last week was I think the first time Kaepernick really struck down the middle of the field, inbetween the hashes. We have seen them kind of avoid that area of the field. It was a thing of beauty. I have no concerns about this football team right now. I still think they need to be cautious with Colin at times. You give that defense an edge to win games, and I feel like that defense alone will make it happen.
Q: The Falcons have a lot of talented players on offense. Is there any way they can with the game for Atlanta?
HEATH EVANS: Did Aaron Rodgers do it in the last game with all the weapons he had? What Aaron Rodgers couldn’t do, why would we believe Matt Ryan could do with less wide receivers? Let’s be honest, I’m going to take the Green Bay wide receivers over what I’m going to take in Atlanta – big, fast receivers. Yeah, they’re good, but what is the route tree that they run? They run 9-routes, they run deep comebacks, deep outs – tough to defend, but listen, I’m going to take the versatility of Green Bay all day.
If Dirk Koetter, the offensive coordinator of Atlanta, decides to run the ball again and he wants to space out that left side of the 49ers’ 3-4 scheme that Vic runs, I think they might have a chance.
If you go back and look at that Giants’ film, what the Giants did was genius. Very few people have copied it. They spaced out the left side of that 3-4 defense with big splits between the guard and center and guard and tackle, and it just created about an extra three or four inches of running space when big Justin Smith was trying to jam stuff up. The Giants ran all over you guys, and no one’s been able to full copy that idea yet. If Atlanta’s willing to watch some game tape and say, “Hey, this worked for the Giants and we think we can do the same thing,” they might be able to have some success running the ball. But there is nothing Atlanta does that scares me for this week’s matchup. I’m not saying they can’t win, because we know this game, but you cannot build a recipe for success for Atlanta based on who they are and who the San Francisco 49ers are.